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Should You Take Antioxidants?

Antioxidants are compounds that can prevent damage due to oxidative stress. Oxidative stress occurs in the body during normal metabolism and your body has ways of preventing and repairing damage to cells from free radicals that are produced during oxidation. Some studies have shown that antioxidants may improve blood vessel function, an effect that could protect against heart disease.

However, taking dietary supplements of antioxidants hasn't been shown to be an effective way to prevent or treat heart disease.

Some foods that are rich in antioxidants are important parts of a heart healthy diet. The best approach is to eat these foods everyday - fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts.

Antioxidants may protect against heart disease in many ways such as protecting tissues from oxidative damage, reducing inflammation and promoting healthy blood vessels. But it is not yet known whether taking supplements of antioxidant vitamins can benefit the heart. The best approach, says the American Heart Association, is to get antioxidants from the foods we eat.

Antioxidants Vitamins and Minerals

Several vitamins, minerals and other food components are considered antioxidants, meaning they reduce damage from oxidation or free radicals.

Common antioxidants in food:

  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E and tocopherols
  • Beta-carotene and other carotenoids
  • Selenium
  • Polyphenols

Foods With Antioxidants

Plant foods contain a range of antioxidants. You can find antioxidants in fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, and beans.

  • Fruits - berries, cherries, grapes, pomegranate, citrus fruits, apples, cranberries, melon
  • Vegetables - kale, spinach, collards, tomatoes, onions, broccoli, cabbage, vegetable oils
  • Grains - whole grains such as oats, barley, millet, corn
  • Nuts - peanuts, almonds, walnuts, pecans, chestnuts
  • Beans - most beans
  • Seeds - sunflower seeds, flax seed, flax seed oil
  • Other - tea, coffee, chocolate, wine, garlic, onion, spices (cinnamon)

Processed Foods and Antioxidants

How much processing a food goes through can greatly affect its antioxidant content. For instance, green tea brewed from tea leaves is likely to contain more antioxidants than processed and bottled green teas or other drinks with green tea flavoring. Chocolate that has a higher percentage of cocoa (darker chocolates) often has more antioxidants. Antioxidants can also be found in certain parts of the food, such as the apple peel or the bran of grains.

Kris-Etherton, PM et al. Antioxidant Vitamin Supplements and Cardiovascular Disease. Circulation. 2004;110:637-641.

Green Tea Benefits

Green tea comes from the same plant as black and oolong teas.

The difference is that green tea has not been oxidized during processing. Green tea contains caffeine like other non-herbal teas.

Green tea is high in antioxidants, particularly ECGC (epigallocatechin gallate). Some studies have shown that people who drink green tea have a lower rate of stroke and other cardiovascular diseases than people who drink low levels of or no green tea.

Moderate consumption of green tea is safe. Dietary supplements of green tea extract and epigallocatechin gallate are also available. Check with your doctor before taking any dietary supplement.

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